Popular Keyboard Layouts Explained! Which Should You Go For?
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Perhaps you’ve seen our recent review on the Razer Blackwidow Mini V3 Hyperspeed, an up and coming wireless mechanical keyboard from Razer that has a rather unique layout that most wouldn’t normally chance by.
It sports a 65% layout.
But what does that exactly mean? Well, worry no more for we are here to help you out by explaining some of the most popular keyboard layouts out there and perhaps give you a little glimpse into what more there are. A little taste of the custom world. But regardless, let’s go over some of the most popular layouts right now, and most of which are readily available!
Full-Sized / 100%
This layout probably needs no introduction. If you’ve been to your local electronics store or even just simply browse online, you would’ve seen this layout. This layout is standard and encompasses pretty much everything that you would ever need on a keyboard. It has also been the standard ever since Windows was introduced, thus it is also known as the Windows Keyboard or 104 Keyboard, as it features exactly that number of keys, 104.
Now there are also a few variations of this layout, the most common being an extra column of macro keys to the left. This variation was made popular back when gaming companies started to release gaming-centric keyboards. Having extra macro keys to bind actions to in games made for an arguably more competitive gaming experience.
Some of the popular mechanical and optical gaming keyboards that feature this layout would be the Razer Blackwidow V3 Pro, the Steelseries Apex Pro, ROG Strix Scope RX and more.
If you take a full-sized keyboard and remove the numpad, you’ll then get the TKL layout. TKL stands for TenKeyLess and it is a simple naming sense since it is the removal of the numpad which has the keys 0 all the way through to 10, thus TenKeyLess.
TKL is in fact the most popular layout at the moment, especially for gaming. The reasons for that are straightforward and simple. Firstly, the numpad is seldom used in the majority of games out there and that actually leads to the second point. If it is seldom used, companies might as well just remove it. By doing so, it makes the keyboard more compact but at the same time, it also brings an advantage to the table. The space that would have been taken up by the numpad is now available for the movement of the mouse. This makes for a more comfortable gaming and typing experience as your arms are now naturally closer together than they would be with a full-sized keyboard.
On that note, companies also recognize the fact that the TKL layout makes for a more compact keyboard, and thus the keyboard is much more travel-friendly as well. Most of these boards would also feature removable USB cables which is definitely a plus.
Overall, you simply don’t lose much compared to full-sized and it still maintains much of the core functionality of everything you would need a keyboard for.
Now if you take a look a the TKL layout, you can easily see that the keyboard is split and grouped in different sections. You have your main keyboard where your alphas and mods are, you have the F-row up top, you have your isolated arrow keys and the home cluster right above it. If you take away the last three sections and just have that main keyboard section, that is essentially 60%.
The reason why this is called a 60% layout is quite simple. The percentage is in relation to the full-sized layout which is 100%. So a 60% keyboard will have about 60% of the keys. But do note however that it does not mean 60 keys in total. The percentage numbers are just a close estimate. The actual board will have either more than or less than 60 keys.
Compared to TKL or full-sized for that matter, the 60% layout is extremely compact. This very layout was made popular with the introduction of the Ducky One 2 Mini. Again, this layout mainly came to be because of gaming and especially with the rise of e-Sports. Most games like Dota 2, CS:GO, League of Legends and more really do not require a whole lot of keys. In fact, most of the necessary keys are pretty much within reach with your left hand around the WASD cluster. Thus for such games, the arrow keys aren’t needed, the home cluster is barely touched and even the F-row is rarely used. If the keys aren’t used much, why have them?
Additionally, just like the TKL against the full-sized, 60% is far more compact, allowing for even more space for mouse movement and the compact nature of such a board makes it really easy to transport around. Drop it in the bag, put it in a sleeve, you name it. Ideal for bringing to an e-Sports tournament.
But despite that, a 60% keyboard actually retains full functionality up to a TKL and this is made possible through the use of layers. By utilizing a Function (Fn) key, the number row has the F-row layer underneath it, and the home cluster and arrows are similarly arranged underneath a layer, usually on the right side of the alphas. For some out there, this is also in fact an advantage because you do not need to physically move your hand a slight distance away to access keys like F12, Home or Print Screen. Everything is accessible via layers and you can access them without moving your hand away from the alphas.
So we now turn our attention to the 65%. To describe it briefly, a 65% is a 60% but with dedicated arrow keys and a few keys from the home/navigation cluster lined up in a column on the right side. In fact, in terms of compactness, it is pretty much the same as the 60%, just with an extra column of keys on the right.
This layout is now rising in popularity because while the 60% is really compact and pretty much doesn’t lose any core functionality through the use of layers, some people out there still really appreciate dedicated arrow keys and perhaps some keys with a core function like Delete or Print Screen. Thus the 65% layout was born and is now slowly being promoted by the larger companies out there like Razer and ROG. If you were looking for a more compact keyboard compared to TKL, but don’t want to lose dedicated arrow keys, 65% is exactly what you’re looking for. In fact, 65% is one of the, if not, the most popular layout within the custom scene at the moment!
But the standard 65% layout does have a few unique keys that most aftermarket keycap layouts do not yet really cover at the moment. The most important is the right shift key, which unlike on the previous three layouts mentioned which uses a 2.75u right shift key, the one on the 65% utilizes a 1.75u right shift. A common 65% layout would also utilize three 1u keys to the right of the spacebar, which might be tough to find as well. Just a couple of things to take note of if you’re thinking of switching up keycaps.
Which Should You Go For?
The answer for this is very simple. It all comes down to what functionality you need a keyboard for and/or if you require those keys to be dedicated, or are you fine with them underneath an Fn layer?
If you require a numpad, the answer is straightforward, go for 100% or full-sized. It has everything you need, it is the layout that’s the most widely available in a variety of switches and styles, and probably also the most value-oriented if you just simply need a keyboard.
If you don’t need the numpad, go for the TKL. It is not only more compact, which gives you more space for mouse movement, but this is also the one layout that is the most popular in the gaming market as well. This means that if you’re looking for a good or premium keyboard with switches you fancy, this will probably give you the most number of options.
Now if you know you just game most of the time and the games you play do not require the use of the F-row or dedicated arrow keys, perhaps you can take a look at 60%. It might seem daunting at first, ironically, to go from a full-sized or TKL down to such a small keyboard. But if you know that you don’t really use those keys which full-sized or TKL offers, 60% might just be perfect for you.
And hey, you might also appreciate just how much more space you have now on your desk.
Finally, if you already know you can go smaller than TKL, but you still want your dedicated arrow keys, look at the 65%. This is practically just as compact as 60% and perhaps might also look slightly more unique as well. We personally do think that arrow keys finish the look of a board. We also appreciate the inclusion of a dedicated delete key, which is oh-so-important for accessing the BIOS.
For now, we’ve only covered basically 4 keyboard layouts. To be honest, there are actually so many more, such as the 1800, 75%, 50%, 40%, Alice and more. But if we were to touch on those, this article would drag on forever! Not to mention that for those layouts, we have to talk about customs, which is quite the rabbit hole to go down. So we’ll refrain for now.
In any case, we hope this has been somewhat useful and intriguing and that you manage to find the keyboard to suit your needs! Happy typing!
Written by Soon Kai Hong